Running to Stand Still

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Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of listening to my friend Richard sing and play guitar to songs from U2’s Joshua Tree album.  I had not heard much of Joshua Tree in the years since I wore my cassette tape of it out back when I was in Bible college.  Throughout the evening, Richard had me awash in college memories.  I was struck by how many of my memories included going long distances on open roads, whether it was for weekend choir or preaching trips or visits home to see my parents or adventures in the hometowns of my college friends.  And Joshua Tree was one of a handful of albums/cassettes that provided a soundtrack for much of those years.  So, if you are reading this, Richard, thanks for taking me a sentimental journey that night.

After the concert, but before I even got in my car to drive home, I downloaded Joshua Tree so I could have it again. It’s such a great album and yet, in the last two weeks, one song has bubbled in me more than all the other tracks.  As I drive around LA, or walk the dogs, or swim, I find myself humming or singing,

Ha la la la de day
Ha la la la de day
Ha la la de day.

Maybe you know it, maybe you don’t but it’s the refrain to as song called Running to Stand Still.  It starts,

And so she woke up
Woke up from where she was
Lying still
Said I gotta do something
About where we’re going

It’s a sad song, a song about love not quite going right, maybe even about life not quite going right.  It’s a dirge, a lament.  Even before Tuesday, it had once again become a soundtrack, a part of me.

Obviously, much has been written about Tuesday, all of it on Facebook.  Well, most of it on Facebook.  We’ve certainly had the opportunity to air all of our opinions about this election and the aftermath.  If we thought it was divisive before and we thought it would go away after the election, we misjudged that as grandly as many misjudged the outcome of the election itself.

I voted for Hillary Clinton.  I can’t imagine anyone being shocked by that admission.  I don’t love her in the way some of my friends do, but I did feel that with the options presented, she was my, our, best hope.  I will also admit to being a big Obama fan, too.  I would happily sign up for four more year of him and Michelle.  Yes, I know that not everyone feels the same way.

Also, for the last week, I was working on a written piece that I hoped would be a part of a storytelling show.  I recounted one of the worst things that ever happened to me, maybe the very worst, and the show’s director asked for rewrites that took me further and further from a workable piece.  Have you ever written paragraph after paragraph and with each sentence found yourself drifting completely away from whatever it is you wanted to say when you started writing? When this person told me that I would not be asked to participate, it was a crushing blow.  Are you ok, they asked.  No, not right now, but I will be.

Ha la la la de day
Ha la la la de day
Ha la la de day.

Yesterday, after not speaking to each other since pre-results Tuesday, I called my parents.  We do not talk politics much, we are not on the same page.  But I was shocked to find out just how truly gleeful my Dad was about Trump’s victory.  I tried to explain that I was worried about my safety and my civil rights, but he was more interested in telling me the ways Obama failed these last eight years and that Hillary should be in jail.  It got heated and then it cooled.  My Dad said that with Tump being president, I have probably never been safer.  They told me that they loved me, I told them, I know, I love you too.

I did not post much to my FB wall this week.  I made a joke about moving to Canada (how original) early on Tuesday when I still had some hope that the direction the night felt like it was headed was not going to careen in the way that it did.  The next day, I posted a picture of my dog Ricky looking super adorable at the Blessing of the Animals at my church last Sunday.  Also, on Wednesday, I posted a picture of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son, a U.S. soldier, was killed in 2004 in the Iraq war.  Mr. Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was one of the most emotional moments of the convention.  President Elect Trump made fun of the family and conjectured that Mrs. Khan, who stood silently by her husband, was not allowed to speak.

Also, yesterday, someone I went to Bible college with posted a meme that said, “Protests only work if human rights have been violated.  Protesting for not getting your way is just crying.” I hesitated to comment, what good does it do, but I wrote, “I have not been protesting, so I only have a limited understanding, but I do believe there are people who fear that with Trump’s election, their human rights will be taken away. I know I fear that my human rights will be taken away. We will see what the future holds.” To which a stranger responded to me, “And what about the human rights of others being demolished right now in the protests? You are worried about nothing. The riots however are real.”

So I said,  “I am not making light of the violence that is occurring at the protests right now, but you do not need to dismiss my concerns about what the future holds.”  I did not think that was too offensive.  As you might suspect, a part of me wanted to lash out, say something cruel.  I looked at this stranger’s FB profile.  Apparently she loves her grandbabies and her state university.  I don’t really know why she felt the need to attack me, a stranger to her as much as she is to me.

You got to cry without weeping
Talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice.

Anyway, I decided to take a break from Facebook.  If you see this, it doesn’t mean I’m on FB again, WordPress just automatically sends my blogs to Facebook when I publish them.

It’s Saturday night, this dramatic week is nearly over.  I don’t mind saying I’m glad to see it go.  I have a party I need to get to and I need to change into something cute.  (Typos and run on sentences, be damned.) Tomorrow is another day, a new week.  But tonight, I want to raise a glass and toast my friends and say that I’m sad. If you’re sad too, I get it.

Tomorrow we can leap and soar and fly, but tonight, suffer the needle chill, we are running to stand still.

Not Only Does Jesus Love You

jesus-wineMy friend and co-worker Judy has never really gotten over me writing a blog about another co-worker. I know this because about once every five days, she brings up that blog and asks, “why don’t you write a blog about ME?”

And this blog is about her, sort of. It’s about her in the way that it’s also about me and, I hope, anyway, it’s about you too.

Judy and her fiancé Travis have been attending church with me this summer. When our church announced a few weeks ago that we would have a night called Beer and Hymns, Judy and I both got really excited. We love drinking. And they promised it wouldn’t just be beer, but wine also.

And I’m not going to lie, for the last few weeks, I’ve really looked forward to this event, which is tonight. (7:00 pm! First Congregational Church, 6th and Commonwealth) Did I mention I enjoy drinking? I know I joke about my alcohol consumption but I don’t really drink the way I used to when I was younger. And yet, with a nice glass of wine, or a bit of my favorite Maker’s Mark, sometimes I can go on a journey that’s warm and sentimental and kind of funny and deeply emotional. Some say we become someone else when we drink and others say we reveal our truest selves. And I think both are true and both can be true.

One of my happiest moments was a few years ago, drunk at the Amy Grant concert at the Greek with my friend Richard. We had grown up in the church and with Amy’s music, and in our adulthood, for our own reasons, moved away from the church. Now that I have returned to church, the memories of that night are sweeter. I did not realize I was inching back to a spiritual journey at the time, but I was. And I have both Amy Grant and a bourbon distillery in Kentucky to thank for it.

Judy and I have been talking up Beer and Hymns to our co-workers and other friends. Every chance we get, we ask someone else, “Do you want to go?” And you know, as it turns out, the idea of drinking in church is a little provocative.

A few days ago, Judy and I asked one particular friend if she wanted to go to Beer and Hymns. I don’t want to embarrass her, but she really is my favorite person to work with. (Sorry, Judy.) She is always the one to help me when I’m in a bind. In an environment where someone is always in a fight (or feud) with someone else, this person is liked and respected by everyone, no small feat. We met working together at the same restaurant downtown and as I tell her often, she is the only good thing to come out of that place.

When I asked this friend if she wanted to go to Beer and Hymns, she said with a sad little laugh, “No, Jesus doesn’t like me.” And I don’t want to spin this out too much because she was making a joke. But, somewhere I do believe it came from an honest place.

And I understand it because it’s the kind of thing I’ve thought, probably even said.  Jesus doesn’t like me. How does one derive at that conclusion when it’s the total opposite of what the Bible says?

A few nights ago, I had the recurring dream that I was back at my Bible college. Years ago, I wrote about this phenomenon, that I would dream I was at Ozark and I was afraid they would find out I was gay and that they would kick me out. And I’d wake up anxious and sad and conflicted. For years, every several months, I would have a variation of the same dream.

This time, when I found myself back at Ozark, in my nocturnal journey, it was different. I was happy to be there and then I was surprised to find myself so happy. I thought, they all know I’m gay and I’m here and we don’t exactly believe the same things and we all want to understand God better and really, it’s all okay.  Wonderful, even. No doubt, my dream was influenced by the reception I received several weeks ago at an Ozark reunion in Anaheim, where I reconnected with old, dear friends and we laughed about the good times, and I remembered, there had been many good times.

2016 has been a truly bumpy year for me. To be honest, I think I only do bumpy years. But, being in church again has brought me so much joy.

I don’t know if church makes me a happier or more peaceful person but I know that church is a source of happiness and peace for me.

Let’s be honest, the church is the reason many people go around wondering whether or not Jesus likes them.  If you’ve been along for any of these blogs the last few years, you know that I have held resentments toward the church, hostilities for the way my friends or family or myself have been treated.  And now I find myself back in church.  I’m the one asking my friends to join me for fellowship and comfort and unity and peace, again.

And how I treat every person I come into contact with, is a reflection of my faith, my journey.  And that sucks because I am really not always a nice person.   But I’m trying.

But this blog is for anyone and everyone who ever wondered if Jesus liked them or loved them, even for everyone who ever wondered if Jesus existed.  It’s for anyone with questions about why we are here or what happens to us when we die.  It’s for anyone who truly does not understand why cancer exists.  It’s for anyone who has been hurt, not only by the church, just hurt.  Is that everyone?  I hope so, simply because it’s better if we remember we are in this together.

And while I know that I do not know all there is to know about Jesus, there are things that I believe.  And you know maybe someday I’ll be proven wrong, and if that’s the case, that doesn’t seem so bad either.  But I believe that not only does Jesus love you, he likes you too.  And if you want to join Judy and me tonight at our church and drink a little sauvignon blanc or IPA and sing about God, we’d love to see you there.  Like so much in life, it’s an open invitation.

Ray, I Hope You Know

  On Sunday, after church, I went to an orientation for people interested in joining the congregation. About 15 of us, we all sat around a table and wrote our names with sharpies for name tags we affixed to our shirts and blouses. 

The minister came in and introduced himself, shared a bit of his life story and asked us all to share our names, what we do, and briefly, our religious history. Not surprisingly, the group was filled with folks like me who had grown up in church and somewhere along the way, stopped going. 

When it was my turn, I shared that I had gone to Bible college, had been a youth minister, and that after I came out of the closet, that was the end of all of it. Also, for whatever reason, in the beginning of 2016, I decided I missed church. So, after more than 20 years, I started looking for a church home. 

After we went around the room, each sharing a bit of their own story, the minister told us about the church, its history, its positions, its outreach. Then he asked the room if anyone had any questions. The room sat quietly for a few seconds until finally, he said, “Surely the former youth minister has a question for me.” Everyone chuckled, I chuckled. “Actually, I do.” Another chuckle. I asked my question, so boring of a question that it doesn’t warrant repeating. 

A few others asked questions, and not much later, he dismissed us. As I left, my friend Richard and I went to shake the minister’s hand and say thanks. 

The minister said, “Ray, I hope you know that you are welcome here. We have many LGBT members.” I laughed because, as I shared in my last blog, at this church,  someone, everyone, is always reminding us, as often as possible, just how welcome every person is. 

I was a little high all that afternoon. And it wasn’t just the welcoming the gays part. But there was something thrilling about being called out for my time in the ministry. The former youth minister. And that somehow, if God had used me before, maybe God could use me again. 

As I was reading a book today, another memoir of a Midwestern gay who moved to New York to make his way, I had a flash of that exchange that took place on Sunday. “Ray, I hope you know that you are welcome here.” My eyes got blurry and I had to put my book down and I started to weep. It had not been emotional in the moment, but now, with some reflection, I thought, I have waited 25 years to hear those words from a church.  I’d actually waited my entire life. From the time I was the little guy in a tan leisure suit and a wooden cross necklace, until the day I left, at 23, I was always trying to turn myself into the straight version of Ray. And here someone, an entire congregation, was offering the possibility, that Gay Ray, could be what God wanted me to be all along. And the idea was shocking, but also, a comfort. I bawled. 

And you know, I must be honest. There is a conflict, because within this joy, this discovery that there is a place for me, after so many years, I can’t help but resent the churches that turned me away in the first place.  And then I wonder, DID they turn me away? Or did I just go away because I was afraid I would hear those words, “You are not welcome here.” I knew the 411. I’d been paying attention every Sunday. Church is no place for the gays. Being gay is something you repress or pray to heal. And if you aren’t healed of it, your faith wasn’t very good to begin with. And your parents are taught in church that if you are gay, it’s because they did something wrong. And your parents, as hard as they try, it breaks their heart that you’re gay. And you go through life, knowing that, even though they love you, you broke their hearts. And their churches don’t offer them comfort and say to them, “You did nothing wrong. You are amazing parents.”

It’s a lot. It’s enough to burden a person’s soul.

I know it must seem like I say the same thing over and over again. I do and I know that I do, but I cut myself some slack because I don’t think I am the only person who has struggled to feel welcome, to feel home. And I know that I have conservative friends in conservative churches that have young LGBT kids in their congregation and it would mean so much to me, if that is you, you could reach out to those kids and tell them how much you are rooting for them. That your church is their home. That they are welcome.

I know that some of you grew up, completely, all the way, house, kids, dogs, vacation home, grew up, but for some of us, childhood never seems very far away. And the people whose approval we wanted most in our youth are the affirmations we seek for the rest of our lives.  And we are all a little broken, all a little weary. And don’t think you can tell someone too many times that they are welcome, because,  maybe the opposite is so ingrained, that it takes a really long time to hear it.

The Differences

 

 A couple of days ago, I spent the afternoon with two friends from Bible college, Heidi and Greg, who were visiting Los Angeles with their teenage children. We walked around Hollywood Boulevard and the Chinese Theatre and eventually made our way over to the La Brea Tar Pits. It was a joy to catch up with old friends and show them around my city.

Now, I know how my blog posts have a tendency to unfold. I tell a story and I say, either the people I am talking about are in the wrong or I’m in the wrong or we were both in the wrong. I’ve read the back log, I know the pattern. And especially when I write about any interaction between the gays and the conservative Christian community, I have a history of pointing fingers. Sometimes my diatribes are late night rants that I second guess in the morning. Other times, it’s something more thoughtful, a gentle nudge of “hey, let’s just look at this, how can we do better?”

Well, let me start by saying, that is not the nature of this particular blog. The hours that we spent together were lovely. I never felt a judgement from Heidi or Greg or their children about my life. The words “lifestyle choice” never came up. 

When we met, they had just come from a tour of Paramount Studios and they told me they got to meet Dot Marie Jones from Glee on the lot and Greg took a picture (or 3) with her. I thought to myself, good for them for wanting to take a picture with not only an out lesbian, but also someone playing a transgendered character on television. I honestly don’t know that every conservative Christian would jump at that photo op, but of course, it honestly moved me that these old friends did.

At one point in our afternoon, Heidi pulled out her ticket from the tour. She wanted to give the ticket to me because the quote on the ticket, credited to Cecil B.Demille, said, “The greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling.” There was a bit of awkwardness because I wasn’t really sure she was giving me the ticket or just showing it to me. And then she wasn’t sure if I really wanted the ticket. And then the ticket became a running joke throughout the rest of our afternoon, a punchline really. 

Heidi was one of my best friends in college. I know this won’t translate, how could it, but Heidi and another friend Sheri and I once went to a weekend conference to Lake of  the Ozarks (as glamorous as it sounds) where the entire time we kept singing this three part harmony song called “I don’t know.” All we did was sing “I don’t know” over and over and over again. Like Michael Row the Boat Ashore with significantly less lyrics. I KNOW, I told you the story wouldn’t translate but it made us laugh all weekend. It made us laugh for weeks and months and years after, too.

While I had friends in high school, I never felt like I was part of a tribe until I went to Bible college.  I just wasn’t skilled at making friends until my time at Ozark. And even though I don’t see life exactly the same way as most of my former classmates do, I still feel a connection to them. 

Tuesday night, even from the moment we said our goodbyes and our cars took us in opposing directions, I felt a little sad. I couldn’t quite name it, we’d had a great time, laughed a lot. There was still a connection, I concluded. We still have things in common. They are still the loving people I remember and I could tell, they are raising their teenagers to be loving, interesting, sharp-witted adults, too. I didn’t feel like their icky gay friend. (Note to self, HBO series pitch or perhaps just a great Katy Perry song: My Icky Gay Friend.) 

So, if they didn’t do anything wrong and FOR ONCE, I didn’t do anything wrong, why did I feel melancholy? 

It has occurred to me before, that I have spent my entire life feeling I need to explain myself. When I was a fervent, Evangelical high school and college student, there were always people who asked, “Why are you such a Bible beater?” When I came out of the closet, for years, I had people question why I would choose to be gay or choose to live the gay lifestyle. Even still, I get asked versions of that same question. I assume that, to some extent, I will contend with that for the rest of my days.

As I drove home, and later that night, I imagined the conversation Heidi and Greg might have had about me. That it was great to see me (I hope), that I’m not so gray or wrinkled or overweight that I’m no longer recognizable as the Ray they remember. But also, I imagined a sigh, and then, “He’s so special, I just wish he still loved Jesus.” In my mind, I did not imagine a judgement, merely a wish that I might still be a part of the club, or even better, the tribe, they are still a part of. 

As much as we will always have things in common, there will also, always, be differences. And that’s okay. Really, it is.

I’ve thought about that Paramount Studios tour ticket a lot since Tuesday. I did keep it. It sits on my desk now and when I look at it, I smile. This morning I saw that Heidi posted a pic of us with it, joking about my tepid reaction, and it tickled me. Nearly 30 years later, she still makes me laugh.

I always wonder how people see me, too much so.  I know. But I have to remember to think it without overthinking it. That maybe Heidi doesn’t think of me as gay or Christian or not Christian or lost or found, forgiven or I don’t know. Maybe she just thinks of me as a storyteller.

And she is part of my story, as I am part of hers.

Letters, I Do Get Letters.

BzIkodzIcAAfEIg.jpg-largeWell, I suppose by letters, I mostly mean emails or Facebook messages, but from time to time, I do receive privates correspondence from people, usually from people I know, about something I’ve written here.  Just the other day, I received a card in the mail from a junior high and high school classmate full of encouragement.  What a sweet gesture, I thought.  We seldom communicate with cards and physical letters anymore and when you get something in the mail, it’s a treat.  So, thank you, T, you made my day.

Also on the same day, I received a FB message from a fellow classmate from Ozark Christian College.  I have thought about it quite a bit since reading it.  I responded that day and he responded to my response that day, but I really don’t know what to say in going further.  When you read this, you might have your own thoughts on the matter.  For the sake of anonymity, I will call him Andrew.

Here it is:

Hey Ray – I have been struggling for a while to ask you some questions about your life now. I am frustrated because I do care about you as a classmate and brother in Christ but I just cannot reconcile your contradictions. I am not attacking you or trying to start an argument – and I am sure you have posted your story – but help me understand why you think you are right and I am wrong? I am asking this in COMPLETE humility and a desire for compassionate understanding. Thanks

This was my response to him:
Andrew, thank you for taking the time to send me a message. I don’t doubt that I sometimes contradict myself, I believe most of us do at times. You don’t have to reconcile the person I was when you knew me to the person I am now. I think I understand how you see it as your job to help me and I don’t mind that, but I don’t see it that way.

Still, if you would like to write a guest blog, I think it would be a great conversation starter. You really could take any direction that you want. My sense is that you have been thinking and praying about this and I’m sure you have something to say that many people want to hear. Yours is the first message of this nature I’ve received from my OCC classmates and I’m sure you are expressing what many feel and think. I would love to have your POV.

This was his response to my response:

I appreciate that Ray – I will definitely consider that – I do want you to understand that I do not feel it is my job to help you. I think as a friend it is my responsibility to completely understand your POV and choice – if I don’t agree so be it – but I have been wrestling with this because I am angered by what I consider over-reach in the gay community – and the threats against those of us who are Christians. So that is what I am trying to reconcile – thanks for your kind response – I look forward to more dialogue !!

Now, let me say, I do appreciate his attempt to have a conversation.  I don’t doubt that he is expressing the thoughts of many of the conservative Christians I know. And I do think it was sent with good intentions.  Is it overstepping the boundaries of what is “polite” to initiate this exchange? It’s possible.  Andrew and I were amiable at OCC, but I never considered him one of my closest friends and I doubt he considered me one of his closest.  Does that make a difference?  Maybe, maybe not.

I think it’s somewhat audacious to talk about one’s perceived “over-reach in the gay community” to someone who knows first hand what it means to not have the same rights as any member of the heterosexual community.  If it appears that fighting for equal rights for myself and my community is an over-reach, I can’t apologize, it’s something too important to me.

Another thing that I’ve thought quite a bit about in the days since receiving the letter is him telling me that he can’t reconcile my contradictions.  And maybe this is just me, but what I heard, whether it was intended or not, is that he sees me as a hypocrite.  I am sure I am.  I think most of us are, but I really try to be a forthright, honest, accountable person.

There is something that I have skated around since I started this blog.  I have avoided talking about my personal beliefs in terms of God and the Bible in specific terms for only one reason, I don’t want to hurt my parents.  They do read this and while I’m sure they know my belief system is not identical to theirs, we do not discuss it.  If they were to ask me, I would tell them, but, we don’t talk about it.  It certainly isn’t rare for parents and children to see the world differently.  But one of the many things I love about my parents is that they focus on what we have in common, the things that do connect us.

I have been torn about even sharing these exchanges from my classmate.  He asked me why I think I’m right and why he’s wrong.  I could ask him the same thing, and I suppose his answer would be that’s what the Bible says.  But I could respond with, “No, that is how you interpret what the Bible says.” Even among people who identify as Christians, there are widely varied interpretations on many subjects. And it must be said, not every person esteems the Bible as the inspired guidebook for one’s life anyway.

I know how I go on and on about wanting to be the bridge between the GLBT community and the conservative Christian community, but there is a part of me that gets defensive when I receive messages of this kind. And I must say, that’s stupid of me, because Andrew really is just initiating an honest conversation and maybe having that conversation can lead to something good. I mean, if Melissa Etheridge and Mike Huckabee can be friends, isn’t there hope for all of us?

I do welcome your thoughts, even if you are going to tell me something I disagree with. And ESPECIALLY if you are going to tell me something I agree with. Either way, it means we are talking, communicating, and somehow that conversation might inevitably be the channel for connection.

I do want everyone to like me, it’s part of my needy nature. I know it’s just a handful of people who read this, most are people I have known in my lifetime. Most I rarely see in person. But if you are one of my old friends in Kansas or Missouri or Oklahoma, you do have GLBT folks that you work with or go to school with or are the parents of your children’s friends. And even if you read my blog and think, you know, I really don’t agree with Ray, he’s arrogant, a jerk, contradictory, hypocritical, not nearly as smart as he thinks, that is okay. My bigger hope is that somehow me sharing my journey creates a sensitivity, an understanding, even a love, for those people, members of my tribe, who ARE in your lives. Many have been rejected by their family or their friends or their church and it’s my belief that you being there for them, really being a friend, would be a good thing for them and also for you.

Lunch With an Old Friend

halfdomeYesterday, I had lunch with a friend from Bible college that I had not seen for over 20 years. I met him and his oldest son Luke at the California Pizza Kitchen in Arcadia. We caught up on our lives, they told me about their impressive trek up Half Dome in Yosemite. I love a view. They showed me the picture of the cables one has to climb to make it up the last 400 feet of the ascent. When I saw the picture of the incline, which looked to me about 80%, I thought, but did not say, “Ohhhh, shit!” Instead, I think I just said, “Wow, that looks scary!”
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I’m sure my friend, who is now the president of my Alma Mater, Ozark Christian College, and his son have both heard people use that word. When ranking expletives, I think it’s one of the more innocuous ones, right? Anyway, we had a nice lunch. It had been prompted by an email I wrote a few months ago. I won’t go into that here, but Matt had reached out to me then and a couple weeks ago, he sent me an email asking if I wanted to meet him for lunch since he was coming my way.

Matt and I worked together in recruitment at our college when we were students. It was a great job, mostly we just sat on the phone talking to kids we’d met at summer camps and youth rallies in our time at OCC. While it was a sales job of sorts, I loved it because, more than anything, we were talking to kids a couple of years younger than us, about what they thought God’s plan for their life was.

Yesterday, we reminisced. I asked him about his wife Katie, whom you might know, has had some health challenges in recent years. He asked about my parents. He asked about Eric. We talked about the Joplin tornado of 2011 and the way the community came together in the aftermath. We talked about my blog and my not always successful hope to be a bridge between the gay community and conservative Christian community. We talked about movies.

At the end of the meal, he told me that he would like to pray for me. Then he asked me if there was something specific I would like for him to pray for, he suggested my job hunt and what the future holds for me. I said I would appreciate that. He also asked if there was anything he could pray about for Eric and I immediately thought about Eric’s Dad and how losing him is still, naturally, a source of sadness and weight. So we bowed our heads, and Matt offered our burdens up to the Lord in prayer. We said our goodbyes. They were going to a movie. I had to go to my Italian market before I drove back to LA. Like I said, it was a nice lunch.

Later when I met friends for dinner, I told them about meeting with Matt, my former classmate, now the president of my college. When I told them about him asking what he could pray for, one friend asked if I felt like that was condescending. It had not occurred to me, but I pondered John’s question. Was it condescending? I don’t think so. If you are a Christian or believe in the power of prayer, there is no greater gift, saying, “God, this is someone you love, this is what he’s going through, please give him direction and comfort.” And I must say, it made me feel good that he asked to pray for Eric, too.

Is it possible that in his more private prayers, Matt has prayed for me to turn away from a homosexual lifestyle or return to the conservative Christian fold? Yes, it’s probably likely that that has been his prayer. If his Biblical interpretation is that homosexuality is a sin, his concern for me would mandate for him to pray for me in that way. I am sure he went into this lunch, not with an agenda, but a hope that I would somehow return to the faith of my youth. I had my own hopes going into the lunch as well. I hope that knowing a bit more about my story, he might have more compassion and understanding when he meets other gay people, that he might see the similarities before he sees the differences.

I keep thinking about that climb up Half Dome though. (And those cables!) When he showed me the picture of him and Luke, atop that crest, sky so blue, the surrounding mountains so majestic, I marvelled at the beauty of the planet. It’s hard not to think of a Creator when you see vistas like that. And in his way, Matt, by meeting me for lunch, breaking bread over barbecue pizza and a Thai chicken salad, was saying, I still want you to climb this mountain, I still want you to see this view.

Book of John

johnevanThere is a group that I belong to on Facebook whose aim is to bridge the gap between the glbt and conservative Christian communities. There is a fellow in the group who repeatedly posts things from his Biblical perspective that homosexuality is a sin. He is strident and does not appear to absorb or even ponder what other members of the group have to say. Most, but not all, of the members are people who grew up in the church and struggled for years before they reached a point where they started to accept themselves as is. We share our stories and connect. But this guy, he just kind of comes in, lobs a grenade and runs away, never responding to other members’ constructive comments about whatever he has posted. After a couple of weeks pass, he repeats his cycle.

I could wonder why this man, a young, Midwestern husband and father, is so fixated on that Biblical issue, but I’ll never really know his story. And that’s fine. I’ve never met him. I personally don’t have any interaction with him. I don’t respond to his posts. But he does remind me of someone I know.

When I lived in New York, I was a member of an amazing church. I moved to New York knowing no one, they helped establish me in the city, they were my first friends. When I came out to the pastor and his wife nearly a year after I’d moved to New York, their first words were affirmation that I would always be a part of the congregation. By that point, their words and deeds had led me to suspect as much, which, it goes without saying, was a tremendous relief in a tumultuous time in my life.

And I guess the reason I knew that I would still be loved, accepted at this church was the way the congregation loved and accepted a man named John. There are things I’ve probably forgotten about John and perhaps things I’ve remembered not quite precisely. John was gay, probably in his fifties. He never in my presence talked about his sexuality, but I’d been told he had a long time lover that had passed away. He was a greeter, always one of the first people to welcome you and give you a bulletin of the church program. He always wore a suit and tie, always had a kind smile.

John and I spoke every Sunday, it was a small congregation. I have no recollection of any specific thing we discussed, but I thought he was a nice guy. I liked him. I also, probably, foolishly, pitied him a little.

One Sunday, months before I came out of the closet, but certainly while I was wrestling with my sexuality and my identity, I was asked to preach a sermon. It just happened to be gay pride weekend, the day of the parade. And while my sermon was not completely about my perceived interpretation of homosexuality being Biblically immoral, I remember I touched on how the gay people celebrating on Christopher Street did not know the “truth.” While I was writing the sermon, I thought about John and how my words might hurt his feelings, but I reasoned, John needs to know what the Bible says. As if in his 50-some years no one had ever told him. Just thinking about that day, I cringe. I don’t remember John ever treating me any differently after that sermon. I also don’t remember John treating me any differently after I came out to the church less than a year later.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I lost track of most of the people in that church. I find that sad, too, because, they were very, very good to me. I do not know whatever happened to John. It seems possible I heard he’d passed away, or maybe he moved to Florida.

There is one thing that gives me comfort when I think of my fervent sermon about God’s truth that long ago gay pride weekend and that is John knew what was going on the whole time. I was a fresh-faced, corn-fed, passionate Midwestern boy who had moved to New York with a dream, or two. And he knew before I knew, I was on the road to becoming the person I did become. He’d seen it all.

So that’s why I have a little patience with the guy in my Facebook group who lobs dagger after dagger. I think he’s working through his own issues, and let’s be clear, his issues may not even be my issues, but there is something going on that’s shaking his faith. And my wish for him is peace in his spiritual and emotional life. Whoever he is, I want him to accept it.

I don’t doubt that John wanted the same for me. There is an irony that at 46, living in Los Angeles, the stories I most gravitate to are stories about gay culture in New York in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. If I’d known John a little better, I might have had a mentor, my own historian.

I can hope that John knew the influence he had on me, but I doubt he did. Still, I’ll always remember him fondly, a sharp dressed gentleman of a certain age, greeting not just me, but everyone, into the flock, with open arms and a welcoming smile.